Writers' Resources—On the Web

The Art, Craft, and Business of Writing Fiction

Frankly, the vast majority of the writing advice available on the web is worse than useless, and often downright harmful. Thus, this listing is fairly short, and slanted toward the business aspects of writing. Last Updated: 15 June 2003.

Link Description Use
Association of Authors' Representatives The best way to find trustworthy agents. DO NOT work with an agent who does not, at a minimum, give you a written promise to abide by the AAR's ethics rules, specifically including any agent who charges fees prior to sale of the manuscript. The British counterpart is the Association of Author's Representatives. Basic
Agent Research & Evaluation Another invaluable resource for avoiding agent scams. Basic
Writing World Successor to the lamented Inkspot, a well-balanced set of articles and resources on the business of writing. Moira Allen, the proprietor, is the former managing editor of Inklings. Basic
The Black Hole Before submitting a manuscript, determine a realistic response time—based on actual experiences with markets, not glib promises. Basic
AuthorsLawyer.com A growing collection of essays, resources, and links on legal and business issues for writers. Affiliated with this site. Basic
ASJA Contracts Watch lists a lot of "problem" contracts and publishers. Reading between the lines is becoming more and more important. Intermediate
The Publishing Law Center Provides some good, basic information, but it's not really intended for authors. Intermediate
National Writers Union This UAW affiliate is a fairly militant freelancer organization. While it concentrates on nonfiction issues, it's also relevant for fiction writers. The website is rather slow on the uptake, and the organization is spending all of its energy beating its chest over Tasini, although it's the organization's fault that case does not have even wider applicability. The current problems with the challenged election are taking the NWU's attention away from where it needs to be. Intermediate
The Author's Guild A competitor of the NWU (and rather unfriendly to it, too). Like the NWU, the Authors' Guild website is rather slow on the uptake. Unlike the NWU, much more open to authors who concentrate on book length and on fiction. Intermediate
Writer's Guild of America (West) This is the real "writers' union." Unfortunately, it refuses to admit the value of writing not in the form of a screenplay—WGA(w) agents are allowed to (and do) screw writers of nonscreenplays, but not those of screenplays. Intermediate
National Book Foundation If you're serious about writing well, the NBF's National Book Award will help show one standard of excellence. It certainly wouldn't hurt to read the winners! Caveat scrivener: The NBAs have historically been hostile to speculative fiction—only the "non-adult" awards ever consider speculative fiction, although (for example) Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow is at least as good, in a literary sense, as any of the finalists for 1997. The jury is also very inconsistent in selecting finalists; the 1998 group had two books that did not deserve such recognition—not even close enough to be a judgment call. Intermediate
The Pulitzer Prize Another, even more politicized (and thus less satisfactory) "mainstream" award. This is the "best of" award that voted "No Award" rather than award a prize to Gravity's Rainbow—on the ground of obscenity, which shows that just as many jurors had read Pynchon's book as mullahs had read The Satanic Verses. Which is to say, "none." Intermediate

Research

Writing what you know is a trap for the ignorant. All writers must have certain basic knowledge. Speculative fiction writers also need specialized knowledge to speculate intelligently.

As an example, it's inexcusable to write a story, however beautifully told, that describes the deep seas and lovely climate of a tropical Venus (unless you're writing about massive terraforming!), because:

This example is pretty obvious. But there are a lot of other pitfalls waiting out there for the ignorant. Somebody, somewhere, can find a nit to pick (suggestion: look up "nit" in a good dictionary) with any speculation. A well-conceived, well-written story—whether that story is a short-short or a multivolume series—at least makes grouchy skeptics like me work hard to find the nits!

And, for you fantasy writers: You're not off the hook. As a rule, fantasy tends to be much worse than science fiction about its research. As poor as the typical American's knowledge of science is, it's better than her knowledge of pre-20th century history. For example, there have been at least three fantasy novels in print during the 1990s that screwed up (or ignored entirely) the different calendars used in Europe prior to adoption of the modern calendar in England. One of those three books put a crucial plot event that was to take place on Passover in the wrong Western-calendar month!
Link Description Use
Odin's Castle of Dreams and Legends A rather eclectic, thoroughly charming collection of data on myth, legends, and prehistory. This is a basic site for anyone who contemplates using mythic names, creatures, or places. General
Basic
Encyclopedia Mythica A rather comprehensive web resource on myth, legends, and prehistory. Somewhat more difficult to use than Odin's Castle (see above), but much faster if you already know what you're looking for. General
Basic
Calendar Conversions This is one way to deal with calendar conversions. An alternative focusing on the Ecclesiastical Calendar may be more appropriate if you don't care about why, only about what day Easter falls upon in a given year. General
Basic
Scientific American If you're writing science fiction and you don't already use Scientific American, you'd better be one of the leaders in a core scientific field. Broad coverage, intelligent debates, and the special issues make the print version critical. The online version has an excellent (free!) index to the print version, among other useful features. Science
Basic
Virtual library This site presents the best compromise among ease of use, comprehensiveness, and sheer speed of the major "research" (as opposed to pure indices) websites. General
Basic
Labyrinth This site contains a fair number of documents itself and an excellent collection of links to Arthuriana and other subareas of interest to the preindustrialist. History
Basic
Constructed Languages Resources This site deals with constructed (made up) languages. It's worth a visit for the free name-generating software alone (through a link), which should help keep x's and q's where they belong: the keyboard, not the name! General
Basic
Legends An interesting and useful resource on mythology, if you already know what you're looking for. General
Intermediate
Warp Drive When? This is an interesting part of the whole NASA website. It is not another "FTL is impossible, and I'll prove it to you" site, but a thoughtful look at what real scientists consider as real FTL possibilities. Other NASA sites of interest include the NASA Historical Archive for Manned Missions, the Planetary Photojournal (NASA's image access home page), and the NSSDC Photo Gallery. Science
Intermediate
Simbad Astronomical Data This database at the University of Strasbourg in France has a wealth of data on various astronomical objects. Science
Intermediate
NASA's Extragalactic Astronomy Database The NASA extragalactic database is interesting, although perhaps somewhat less useful for writer than Simbad. Science
Intermediate
"The Alternate View" John Cramer's articles in Analog have been the most consistently interesting part of the magazine for a number of years now. Each article discusses one just-behind-the-cutting-edge area of the physical sciences with refreshing clarity for the mathematically challenged. Unfortunately, the columns often make elementary errors when venturing outside the physical sciences; fortunately, these ventures are themselves uncommon. Science
Intermediate
Evolutionary Theory This cogent discussion of (relatively) current evolutionary theory can be followed, to some extent, by anyone with a basic grounding in the life sciences. Unfortunately, the real action in evolutionary theory requires a lot more than that to grasp the implications. This site doesn't pretend to reach that far, but would be more complete and valuable if it at least probed the envelope. Science
Intermediate
Visual Periodic Table This is the periodic table redesigned for understanding of relationships. The information here will allow one to see that so-called "rock monsters" ("life" based on silicon instead of hydrocarbons) appears to be impossible. An AI based on silicon chips may be possible, but that's different. Science
Intermediate
Nature Nature is a bit more "cutting-edge" than is Scientific American, and unfortunately not nearly as well-written. Its coverage of biological sciences is superior, though, and the letters departments are food for story creation. Science
Advanced
Science Online This site supplements, but cannot replace, Scientific American. The articles are much shorter, much more technical, and seldom well-written, albeit more current. Science
Advanced
New Scientist This British source is a much more politically "relevant," and at times leftist, view of science than Scientific American, Science, or Nature. The material is much more polemical than those three sources—and, for that reason, may create more story ideas. This is a source of ideas for further research more than a research source itself. Science, Politics
Advanced
arXiv.org e-Print archive An exceptional archive of highly technical, cutting-edge papers in cross-platform electronic formats. Particularly strong in some of the wackier areas of physics—exactly what the doctor ordered for the "hard" science fiction writer in search of inspiration, at least if one can follow the math! These are real articles equivalent to, and often taken from, refereed journals such as Physical Review Letters. Compared to this front-line material, Scientific American is just for REMFs (although it provides critical context, and the REMFs are usually the ones who win wars). Science
Advanced

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